Apple pays non-US income taxes of just 2 per cent

The company is likely awaiting a "repatriation tax holiday".

Apple's Headquarters in Cupertino, California. Photograph: Joe Ravi, CC-BY-SA 3.0

Apple's annual tax return (pdf), filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, reveals that it paid just 2 per cent tax on "foreign" (non-US) earnings in 2012.

The news, highlighted by the Sunday Times' Simon Duke, can be found on page 61 of the document, which reveals that the company owed $1,203m taxes on foreign pretax earnings of $36.8bn, and deferred payment on $490m in order to realise a tax bill of $713m this year. Even if the deferred taxes were paid in full, the company would still be paying an effective rate of just over 3 per cent.

International sales accounted for 61 per cent of Apple's business in the last year, and so many are likely to cry foul at the low proportion of taxes which it pays in the areas in which it carries out the majority of its business.

Apple, like many multinational corporations, employs many strategies to legally lower its tax bill. The company bases its entire Europe, Middle East and Africa division in Cork, Ireland, a low-tax jurisdiction, and also operates its worldwide sales and distribution network from there. In addition, the company is famous for the large amount of non-repatriated cash it sits on.

This is money which it has earned on foreign sales, and wishes to bring back to the US, but has not yet done so. Like many companies, Apple is hoping for a "repatriation tax holiday", where it can move that income back to the US without having to pay income tax on it. The most recent holiday was in 2004, and saw companies that brought back profits taxed at 5 per cent, instead of 35 per cent. Until Apple decides what to do with those cash holdings, the company is likely to continue deferring tax owed on them.

In addition, the company doesn't have to pay any tax on foreign earnings which are reinvested overseas – it has spent over $5bn this way in the 2012 tax year.

While the 2 per cent paid on international profits may harm Apple's reputation outside the US, the company still pays an effective tax rate of over 25 per cent overall, and provides a breakdown of the deductions that reduce this from the 35 per cent baseline corporation tax rate of the US.

Updated with credit to Sunday Times.